Profile: David Deifer

"As an entrepreneur, nothing should scare you. You have to be totally optimistic."

Pennsylvania Current
February 26, 1998

David Deifer

David Deifer

David Deifer was toiling away in Penn's Information Systems and Computing department in 1994 when big changes swept the electronic information superhighway. For the first time, the networking and installation supervisor said excitedly, graphic interfaces, text and hyperlinks became easily accessible to the masses, paving the way for his ultimate goal -- a national literary magazine for the University of Pennsylvania.

Deifer's dream, CrossConnect (XConnect), debuted in May 1995 and became a pioneer in World Wide Web literary publishing. From the virtual version grew a print format, the second volume of which came out late last semester and is still available.

The sucess of the project and the coup of producing the hard-copy magazine are testament to Deifer's tenacity, and his ability to harness talent and energy to get the job done.

Q: Where did the idea for CrossConnect originate?

A: I always had it in my head that since most magazines start from a community of writers looking for a new outlet, what I wanted to do was start a national literary magazine. At the time, we didn't have the resources or the funds to do it. So, with the experience we gained at Penn doing computing, a number of my cohorts, Leah Sheppard and Mike Dettinger, and I founded CrossConnect.

Q: How'd you know where to start?

A: It was basically the way any magazine would start up; we had a number of friends who we knew in Philadelphia who were all accomplished writers and creative writers and we knew a number of artists who were showing works in galleries and there's a whole plethora of artists in the downtown area. So there was a tremendous body of work that we could actually select from.

Q: And you took that work to a relatively mysterious medium.

A: There was no information super-highway then; it seemed to hit at the right time. There were a number of other Web magazines like Wired and others that were starting up, and all the national publications from Sports Illustrated to Time magazine to The New York Times were coming on-line. And we came on-line at about the same time they did, which is great for CrossConnect because we can say we were one of the first literary magazines; we get that recognition as being one of the first and one of the best.

Q: How did you get it to evolve to see the light of print?

A: This was always my intention -- to produce a print national magazine for the University of Pennsylvania -- sort of as a gift, as my contribution. I had worked here at that time over five years and I wanted to do something more than just my regular job. And since it was sort of my contribution to Penn, I wanted to step forward and say, "Yeah, I'll produce the magazine." I funded the first print edition and I traveled to the bigger cities to actually sell the books before they were complete. So it was a lot of money not only in the publishing and printing, but in the actual distribution and traveling and selling to individual bookstores.

Q: Pretty committed?

A: I was definitely committed to doing it, and having our books be out there. And it was kind of difficult because I was just showing them manuscripts and mock-ups of the cover.

Q: Was it scary?

A: No, as an entrepreneur, nothing should scare you. You have to be totally optimistic and you have to keep moving forward and you might have to be a little bit arrogant in your desire to see everything happen. To this day, I'm totally optimistic that everything will improve as we gain more readers and more respect in the literary community. Things can only get better.

Q: Do people still prefer print over cyberspace?

A: I think that they always will, because people like to hold the books and read them in bed or on the toilet or wherever; it's good to have something that's real. What's good about starting on the Web, is that we're the first start-up from the Web to actually produce a tangible product.

Q: And to do it you brought together support from all walks of Penn life -- the Kelly Writers House, the English department and students and staff?

A: The way most ideas or dreams happen is through a series of meetings and trying to gather all your mental forces to gain the right amount of support on all sides -- being the driving force behind the magazine, you need a lot of energy and you take that energy from wherever you can get it, so you're always out there trying to get as much support from the best sources.